Ranchers, ag producers and backyard farmers may just be who the Monarch Butterfly can turn to as its populations continue to seriously decline.
Nebraska is the primary breeding ground for the Monarch Butterfly, said Kristal Stoner, Wildlife Diversity Program Manager at the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.
“It has declined by 90 percent and is headed for extinction,” she said. “We just don’t have the habit it once had or breeding ground.”
Stoner added, in its caterpillar stage the Monarch eats only milkweed, which is where the decline in its numbers begin.
“Technology has just gotten better, this is an agriculture area and 20-30 years ago there was a lot more milkweed in field edges or fence rows and pastures,” she said. “We have improved our technology, we have better herbicides and pesticides, farming equipment and we have really clean agriculture practices now. We have just eliminated some of those weedy species from these areas so we have less milkweed today.”
Nebraska has 17 species of milkweed, but the Monarch specializes on a few varieties, which include the Common milkweed, Swamp, World, Showy and Sullivans milkweed.
“The monarch must have one of those milkweed to feed on to survive,” Stoner said.
While the Monarch breeds in Nebraska and across the eastern cornbelt, it migrates from Mexico to Nebraska. The butterfly arrives in June to reproduce through several different generations. After the monarch leaves the caterpillar stage it eats a variety of flowers for food and energy.
“The very last generation they delay reproduction, store their eggs and head south back to Mexico,” Stoner said. “They have to make it all the way back to Mexico and that’s why we need a bunch of diverse flowers also to fuel them on their way.”
Monarchs don’t need a lot of space or food, they can easily thrive in a small 10 by 10 area.
If the milkweed exists, the monarch will find and use it to survive.
“With the milkweed we can put diverse flowers on the landscape to sustain the Monarch for future generations to enjoy just as we have,” Stoner said.
The public is urged to consider planting areas of pasture, farm or backyard where milkweed and other flowers can thrive for monarchs and other pollinators. Anyone who has recently created pollinator-friendly habitat can enter the information into the Milkweed Tracker.
To learn more about the Milkweed Tracker, to enter planted habitat, or to find information on what to plant, visit: OutdoorNebraska.gov/MilkweedTracker.